Thursday, August 25, 2011

Vigil in the Night

A movie has to be pretty damn good to get me past killing a five year old boy in the first five minutes. Vigil in the Night does just that and though I felt like I could hardly forgive it for such monstrousness, I decided to hang in there at least until Brian Aherne showed up. I managed it and I'm glad I did. It's embarrassing to admit just how much I cried during this movie despite the fact that I was wary of the obviously manipulative writers with the whole dying kid thing. To say Vigil in the Night is a melodrama isn't quite fair to it. It would be lumping it in with all those ordinary melodramas that have only half a dozen far-fetched calamities piled on top of one another in two hours. Vigil in the Night has so many more, it's difficult to list them all. It's one of those films that if you step out to make a cup of tea, you better hit the pause button or you won't know where you're at when you return. In fact, skip the tea altogether because that's how the kid dies: his nurse steps out to get a cup of tea and he suffocates.

Carole Lombard plays a nurse who takes the heat when her sister's lapse in professionalism and love for hot caffeinated beverages allows a sick child to die. Brian Aherne plays the doctor she loves. A very determined series of coincidences and calamities keep the lovers apart (just barely) for two hours. It all winds up in quarantined fever ward where doctor and nurse put it all on the line to save a ward full of sweating little tykes. The story is based on the novel by doctor turned novelist, A. J. Cronin, who also wrote The Citadel. Today we take the medical drama as a genre for granted. There's no disease too horrifying that it can't play out for us in prime time. Back in the thirties though, the genre was just finding its feet. Of course, good doctors are glorified to a ridiculous degree (and bad ones vilified in the same extreme), but what I liked about this movie was the focus on the nurses. In one scene, the head of nursing looks at a room full of workmen scrambling to get a quarantine ward ready and comments, "it's the first time I ever saw a man work as hard as a nurse." There's a lot religious imagery in this film, and it's not difficult to see the parallel between nurses and nuns. Well, nuns who get to canoodle on occasion with Brian Aherne, anyway. If you have a nurse in your life, you could do worse than watch this movie thinking of them and then call them up and thank them for working their butts off for humanity.


SteveQ said...

Sometimes a movie's start does make you think, "This better be worth seeing that beginning." "Forbidden Games" starts with a girl seeing her parents killed by strafing and then her dog gets blown up and she walks through the evacuating town CARRYING HER DEAD DOG - all in under 5 minutes. It's a good film, but geez, what a start.

Congrats, btw, on finally reviewing a film I haven't seen!

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I did a Rupert Pupkin-ish film list. It's been a while.

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